Entering into the Mismatch
The weather was crisp and clear on the day after Christmas 1966 when my
friend Pete and I took the train from our suburban homes into downtown
Chicago. We wandered around the Loop for a while, reveling in the bustle
of the city, but then came time for me to bring him on a pilgrimage that
I took as often as I could.
Fighting the wind, we trudged across the Michigan Avenue bridge and
stopped in front of the Wrigley Building. There we stood, our hands
shoved into our pockets for warmth, as we gazed across the street at the
gothic majesty of Tribune Tower. I can't remember whether I muttered the
word aloud or if it merely echoed in my mind: "Someday." Pete was
quiet. High school freshmen are entitled to their dreams.
We lingered for a few minutes and watched as people flowed in and out of
the newspaper office. Were they the reporters whose bylines I studied
every morning? Or the editors who dispatched them around the world? Or
the printers who manned the gargantuan presses? I let my imagination run
wild-until Pete's patience wore thin.
We turned and walked up the Magnificent Mile, browsing through the
overpriced and pretentious shops, until we decided to embark on the
twenty-minute walk back to the train station. As we passed in front of
the Civic Opera House, though, I heard a familiar voice beckon from the
"Hey, Lee, what're you doing here?" called Clay, another high school
student who lived in my neighborhood.
I didn't answer right away. I was too captivated by the girl at his
side, holding his hand and wearing his gold engraved ID bracelet. Her
brown hair cascaded to her shoulders; her smile was at once coy and
"Uh, well, um ... just hanging around," I managed to say to Clay, though
my eyes were riveted on his date.
By the time he introduced us to Leslie, I wasn't thinking much about
Clay or Pete or the fact that my hands were getting numb from the cold
and I was standing ankle-deep in soot-encrusted snow. I made sure,
however, to pay close attention when Clay pronounced Leslie's name; I
knew I'd need the proper spelling to look it up in the phone book.
After all, everything's fair in love and war.
FROM FAIRY TALE TO NIGHTMARE
As for Leslie, I found out later that she wasn't thinking about Clay as
the two of them rode the train home that afternoon. When she arrived at
her house in suburban Palatine, she strolled into the kitchen and found
her mother, a Scottish war bride, busily preparing dinner.
"Mom," she announced, "today I met the boy I'm going to marry!"
The response wasn't what she expected. Her mother barely looked up from
the pot she was stirring. In a voice mixed with condescension and
skepticism, she replied dismissively: "That's nice, dear."
But there was no doubt in Leslie's mind. Nor in mine. When I called her
the next night from a pay-phone outside a gas station near my house
(with four brothers and sisters, that was the only way I could get some
privacy), we talked as if we had known each other for years. People like
to debate whether there's such a thing as love at first sight; for us,
the issue had been settled once and for all.
Leslie and I dated almost continuously throughout high school, and when
I went off to study journalism at the University of Missouri, she moved
there so we could be close to each other. We got married when I was
twenty and she was nineteen. After I graduated we moved to Chicago,
where my lifelong dream of becoming a reporter at the Chicago
Tribune was realized. Leslie, meanwhile, began her career at a
savings and loan association across the street from my newspaper office.
We lived a fairy-tale life. We enjoyed the exhilaration and challenge of
climbing the corporate ladder while residing in an exciting, upscale
neighborhood. Leslie became pregnant with our first child, a girl we
named Alison, and then later gave birth to a son, Kyle. Buoyed by our
deep love for each other, our marriage was strong and secure-until
someone came between us, threatening to shipwreck our relationship and
land us in divorce court.
It wasn't an affair. It wasn't the resurfacing of an old flame. Instead,
the someone who nearly capsized our marriage was none other than God
himself. At least, that's who I blamed at the time. Ironically, it was
faith in Jesus Christ-which most couples credit for contributing to the
strength of their marriage-that very nearly destroyed our relationship
and split us apart forever.
All because of a spiritual mismatch.
A MARRIAGE WITHOUT GOD
I can describe God's role in our courtship and early marriage in one
sentence: He just wasn't on our radar screen. In other words, he
Personally, I considered myself an atheist. I had rejected the idea of
God after being taught in high school that Darwin's theory of evolution
explained the origin and development of life. I figured Darwin had put
God out of a job! Freed of accountability, I decided to live purely for
myself and my own pursuit of pleasure. As for Christians, I tended to
dismiss them as naive and uncritical thinkers who needed a crutch of an
imaginary deity to get them through life.
Leslie, on the other hand, would probably have considered herself an
agnostic. While I tended to react with antagonism toward people of
faith, she was more in spiritual neutral. She had little church
influence growing up, although she has fond childhood memories of her
mother gently singing traditional hymns to her while she tucked her in
at night. For Leslie, God was merely an abstract idea that she had never
taken the time to explore.
Without God in my life, I lacked a moral compass. My character slowly
became corroded by my success-at-any-cost mental-ity. My anger would
flash because of my free-floating frustration at not being able to find
the fulfillment I craved. My drinking binges got out of control a little
too often, and I worked much too hard at my job, in effect making my
career into my god.
Despite all of that, our marriage remained stable. Our love for each
other smoothed over a lot of rough edges. When we were together, we were
happy. That is, until everything exploded in the fall of 1979. That's
when harmony dissolved into hostility. The reason: Leslie announced that
after a long period of searching and seeking, she had decided to become
a follower of Jesus Christ.
To me, that was the worst possible news! I was afraid she was going to
turn into a sexually repressed prude who would forsake our upwardly
mobile lifestyle in favor of spending all of her free time serving the
poor at some skid-row soup kitchen.
"Look, if you need that kind of crutch," I said in a snide and
patronizing tone, "-if you can't stand on your own two feet and face
life without putting your faith in a make-believe god and a book of
mythology and legend-then go ahead. But remember two things: don't give
the church any of our money, because that's all they're really
interested in, and don't try to get me to get out of bed to go anywhere
on Sunday mornings. I'm too smart for that [bleep]!"
Nice guy, huh?
"THIS ISN'T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR!"
That was the opening salvo in what turned out to be a turbulent,
strife-filled, emotion-churning phase of our marriage. Our values began
to clash, our attitudes started to conflict, and our priorities and
desires were suddenly at odds. Arguments erupted, iciness replaced
warmth, and more than once I let my frustration and anger spill over
into an epithet-laced tirade of shouting and door slamming.
I can remember when everything culminated on one hot and humid day while
I was mowing the lawn after another one of our quarrels. My blood was
"That's it," I muttered as I plowed through her flower bed in a childish
display of passive/aggressive anger. "I don't need this anymore. This
isn't what I signed up for! Maybe it's time to get out of this marriage
That was the low point. Our future hung by a thread. Maybe you can
relate to that kind of emotional turmoil. Or perhaps you're frightened
about your own marriage's future because your faith is driving a deeper
and deeper wedge between you and your spouse. Through the years, Leslie
and I have counseled many Christians who have tearfully told us how
their union with a nonbeliever has increasingly brought them anguish,
anger, and arguments.
Once Leslie and I got a phone call at 3:30 P.M. on Easter. Theresa was
crying. "Holidays are always the worst," she said between sobs. "But
today, he really went too far. He's been making fun of me, saying I'm
weak, saying I believe ridiculous things, saying the church is just
trying to get my money. I'm tired of defending myself. I don't know what
to do anymore. Why won't he just let me believe what I want? Why does he
have to ruin everything? It was bad enough having to go to Easter
services by myself; why does he have to destroy the rest of my day too?"
Theresa isn't alone. Rita's husband is a lawyer who is openly
antagonistic toward anything Christian. Rita said, "He actually told our
son that church is where bad people are, that people will try to make
you think like them if you go to church, that little boys who go to
church get molested, and if Mommy ever tries to take you to church
again, you tell her you won't go."
Or consider Kathy. She said her anguish over her marital situation has
only been amplified by her church and Christian friends who
inadvertently make matters worse for her. "There's this underlying
implication that if I would just be a better witness, if I'd just pray
harder, if I'd just get him to come to Christmas services, if I'd give
him the right book to read or tape to listen to, that somehow everything
would work out," she said. "They don't come right out and say it, but I
get the feeling that I'm the one at fault-and that hurts!"
Linda Davis, who lived for years in an unequally yoked marriage until
her husband became a Christian, said the only lonelier plight for an
unequally yoked person would be the death of her spouse. "I doubt,
however, that even physical widowhood makes a woman feel as rejected and
inadequate as does 'spiritual widow-hood, '" she added. "The spiritual
widow receives no flowers or sympathy cards. She simply grieves in
silence for a union that never was."
DON'T GIVE UP HOPE!
More than once while Leslie and I were spiritually mismatched, I
predicted our marriage would end in divorce. Men-tally, I had thrown in
the towel. But through a variety of circumstances we were rescued from
Before it was too late, Leslie figured out how to live out her faith in
a way that began to attract me rather than repel me. She learned how to
grow and even flourish in her relationship with Christ despite
discouragement from me. Although she would be the first to admit that
she made mistakes from time to time, she was able to restore equilibrium
to our relationship. Gently and lovingly, she started to point me toward
Christ-and, ultimately, God used her to open my eyes to my need for a
Today we're celebrating twenty years as a Christian couple and thirty
years of marriage. In an absolutely astounding display of God's grace,
he not only forgave me for my immoral and atheistic past, but he gave me
a ministry as a pastor and evangelist. Together, Leslie and I are
experiencing a depth of intimacy, adventure, and fulfillment that we
never could have imagined during those shallow years we spent without
Now, it's important to stress that-unfortunately-not every spiritual
mismatch will end with both spouses joyfully serving Christ. The
sobering truth is that some couples travel radically different spiritual
paths for the rest of their lives. That's reality. No matter how much
you want to, you cannot force your spouse to become a Christian.
Yet it's equally important to emphasize that if you find yourself in a
spiritually mismatched marriage, there is hope. Don't despair!
You can learn to thrive despite your differences. You can learn to
encourage your spouse in his spiritual journey without inadvertently
chasing him away. You can learn to earnestly seek the best for your
partner without unfairly burdening yourself with undue responsibility
for his salvation. In short, a spiritual mismatch does not have to be a
death sentence for a marriage.
That may seem hard to believe if you're currently embroiled in conflict
with your spouse over your differing views of God. But that's why Leslie
and I are writing this book-to help you learn from what we did both
right and wrong in this rocky period of our relationship. Believe me, we
fumbled our way through, but we did walk away with some hard-earned
lessons that we hope will both encourage you and give you concrete,
practical, and biblical steps to take.
More importantly, you need to remind yourself on a regular basis that
God has not forgotten you. He isn't gleefully punishing you because
you're married to a nonbeliever. In fact, all of heaven is cheering you
on as you seek to humbly and sincerely live out your faith in an often
stressful and difficult environment. Your heavenly Father graciously
wants to offer you courage in the face of strife, peace in the midst of
turmoil, and optimism when everything seems shrouded in gloom.
With his help, you really can learn to survive a spiritual
THE "WHY" BEHIND GOD'S COMMAND
If you've experienced the anguish of being a Christian wed to a
nonbeliever, then you can readily understand why God has prohibited his
followers from marrying outside the faith. He loves us so much that he
wants to spare us from the emotional anguish, the clash of values, and
the ongoing conflict that can result when one spouse is a Christian but
the other isn't. His goal isn't to unnecessarily limit our choice of
prospective mates but to lovingly shield us from the kind of
difficulties that Leslie and I faced during the nearly two years we were
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers," Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians
6:14-16. "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or
what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there
between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an
unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?
For we are the temple of the living God...."
Paul was not issuing a blanket prohibition against Christians having any
association with nonbelievers. He was far too realistic to expect that.
Excerpted from "Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage" by Lee Strobel. Copyright © 2002 by Lee Strobel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.